Explorer-II: Wireless Self-Powered Visual and NDE Robotic Inspection System for Live Gas Distribution Mains

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Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) under contract from Department of Energy/National Energy Technology Laboratory (DoE/NETL) and co-funding from the Northeast Gas Association (NGA), has completed the overall system design, field-trial and Magnetic Flux Leakage (MFL) sensor evaluation program for the next-generation Explorer-II (X-II) live gas main Non-destructive Evaluation (NDE) and visual inspection robot platform. The design is based on the Explorer-I prototype which was built and field-tested under a prior (also DoE- and NGA co-funded) program, and served as the validation that self-powered robots under wireless control could access and navigate live natural gas distribution mains. The X-II system design ({approx}8 ... continued below

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University, Carnegie Mellon September 30, 2008.

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Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) under contract from Department of Energy/National Energy Technology Laboratory (DoE/NETL) and co-funding from the Northeast Gas Association (NGA), has completed the overall system design, field-trial and Magnetic Flux Leakage (MFL) sensor evaluation program for the next-generation Explorer-II (X-II) live gas main Non-destructive Evaluation (NDE) and visual inspection robot platform. The design is based on the Explorer-I prototype which was built and field-tested under a prior (also DoE- and NGA co-funded) program, and served as the validation that self-powered robots under wireless control could access and navigate live natural gas distribution mains. The X-II system design ({approx}8 ft. and 66 lbs.) was heavily based on the X-I design, yet was substantially expanded to allow the addition of NDE sensor systems (while retaining its visual inspection capability), making it a modular system, and expanding its ability to operate at pressures up to 750 psig (high-pressure and unpiggable steel-pipe distribution mains). A new electronics architecture and on-board software kernel were added to again improve system performance. A locating sonde system was integrated to allow for absolute position-referencing during inspection (coupled with external differential GPS) and emergency-locating. The power system was upgraded to utilize lithium-based battery-cells for an increase in mission-time. The resulting robot-train system with CAD renderings of the individual modules. The system architecture now relies on a dual set of end camera-modules to house the 32-bit processors (Single-Board Computer or SBC) as well as the imaging and wireless (off-board) and CAN-based (on-board) communication hardware and software systems (as well as the sonde-coil and -electronics). The drive-module (2 ea.) are still responsible for bracing (and centering) to drive in push/pull fashion the robot train into and through the pipes and obstacles. The steering modules and their arrangement, still allow the robot to configure itself to perform any-angle (up to 90 deg) turns in any orientation (incl. vertical), and enable the live launching and recovery of the system using custom fittings and a (to be developed) launch-chamber/-tube. The battery modules are used to power the system, by providing power to the robot's bus. The support modules perform the functions of centration for the rest of the train as well as odometry pickups using incremental encoding schemes. The electronics architecture is based on a distributed (8-bit) microprocessor architecture (at least 1 in ea. module) communicating to a (one of two) 32-bit SBC, which manages all video-processing, posture and motion control as well as CAN and wireless communications. The operator controls the entire system from an off-board (laptop) controller, which is in constant wireless communication with the robot train in the pipe. The sensor modules collect data and forward it to the robot operator computer (via the CAN-wireless communications chain), who then transfers it to a dedicated NDE data-storage and post-processing computer for further (real-time or off-line) analysis. The prototype robot system was built and tested indoors and outdoors, outfitted with a Remote-Field Eddy Current (RFEC) sensor integrated as its main NDE sensor modality. An angled launcher, allowing for live launching and retrieval, was also built to suit custom angled launch-fittings from TDW. The prototype vehicle and launcher systems are shown. The complete system, including the in-pipe robot train, launcher, integrated NDE-sensor and real-time video and control console and NDE-data collection and -processing and real-time display, were demonstrated to all sponsors prior to proceeding into final field-trials--the individual components and setting for said acceptance demonstration are shown. The launcher-tube was also used to verify that the vehicle system is capable of operating in high-pressure environments, and is safely deployable using proper evacuating/purging techniques for operation in the potentially explosive natural gas environment. The test-setting and environment for safety-certification of the X-II robot platform and the launch and recovery procedures, is shown. Field-trials were successfully carried out in a live steel pipeline in Northwestern Pennsylvania. The robot was launched and recovered multiple times, travelling thousands of feet and communicating in real time with video and command-and-control (C&C) data under remote operator control from a laptop, with NDE sensor-data streaming to a second computer for storage, display and post-processing. Representative images of the activities and systems used in the week-long field-trial are shown. CMU also evaluated the ability of the X-II design to be able to integrate an MFL sensor, by adding additional drive-/battery-/steering- and support-modules to extend the X-II train.

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  • Report No.: None
  • Grant Number: FC26-04NT42264
  • DOI: 10.2172/948010 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 948010
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc896173

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  • September 30, 2008

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Sept. 27, 2016, 1:39 a.m.

Description Last Updated

  • Nov. 28, 2016, 2:22 p.m.

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University, Carnegie Mellon. Explorer-II: Wireless Self-Powered Visual and NDE Robotic Inspection System for Live Gas Distribution Mains, report, September 30, 2008; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc896173/: accessed December 13, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.